New Delhi: The “accidental firing” of an unarmed BrahMos supersonic missile by India that was caused by a “technical malfunction” in “course of a routine maintenance” from a base operated by the Indian Air Force (IAF), has raised questions inside Pakistan’s military and political circle as to how did the missile travel inside Pakistan air space for three minutes and 44 seconds without being intercepted by any of its air defence systems. During this time the missile covered 124 km before it crash-landed near the country’s eastern city of Mian Channu.
The said incident happened between 18.43 pm and 18.50 pm on 9 March. The Government of India has already ordered a high-level court of enquiry into the matter while expressing its “deep regret” over the incident. In March 2017, the Pakistan army inducted HQ-16 or LY-80, a Low to Medium Altitude Air Defence System (LOMADS) to safeguard its airspace from incoming missiles and fighter jets. HQ-16, which is produced by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp (CASC), as per claims made by Pakistan and China, has the capability to engage aerial targets at high altitude, intercept very low-flying targets at a distance of up to about 40 kilometers and hit targets at an altitude from 400-10,000 meters. Its effective range, as per claims made by Chinese military experts, in case of cruise missile is 3.5-18 km. Many Chinese military sites had listed HQ-16 as an effective deterrent against BrahMos.
As per the press conference done by Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar in Islamabad on Thursday, “Pakistan’s air defence operations centre had picked the launch of a high-speed flying object inside the Indian territory at 18.43 pm. From its initial course, the object suddenly manoeuvred towards Pakistani territory and violated Pakistan’s airspace, ultimately falling near Mian Channu at 18.50hrs.”
Mian Channu is located around 160 km from the town of Bahawalpur or around 2.30 minutes away at BrahMos speed and 8 minutes away from capital Islamabad. As per Iftikhar’s submission, the Pakistan military and its defence systems were aware of the launch of this missile for the entire 7 minutes in which it was flying. Similarly, last year in October, Pakistan had inducted The Hong Qi-9 (HQ-9) another Chinese medium- to long-range, active radar homing SAM (Surface to Air missiles) system which has a detection range of 120 km with a tracking range of 90 km which was compared with the Russian S-300 and American Patriot air defense systems.
While inducting this high-to-medium air defense system (HIMADS), Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa had stated that it was capable of intercepting multiple air targets, including aircraft, cruise missiles, and beyond visual range (BVR) weapons at ranges over 100 km with single-shot kill probability. The press release issued by Pakistan’s army had stated that the HQ-9 will operate as part of an integrated air and missile defence network, meaning that it will be used to “significantly enhance” the “Comprehensive Layered Integrated Air Defence (CLIAD)” along Pakistan’s frontiers (read India).